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What does the Bible mean when it calls people to "believe in Jesus"? Getting this right is important in rethinking the Christian faith.

Religious Statue

Often at the heart of a faith crisis is a specific problem, believing the claims of the Bible. And that’s a problem given the role belief plays in the Christian faith. Repeatedly the Bible says that where we spend eternity depends on what we believe. The apostle John concisely expresses the Bible’s view on belief when he says, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (3:36). Those are some scarry words for someone struggling to believe!


The importance the Bible places on believing raises the question of what exactly does it mean to “believe”? And how convinced does a person have to be of the Bible’s claims in order to say “I believe”? Given the dire consequences for not believing, having a clear understanding of that is crucial in navigating a faith crisis. Let’s look closely at what the Bible means when it calls us to “believe”.


Biblical Belief


To answer that question, we need to begin by taking a close look at the words the English Bible uses to translate the Greek words “believe” and “faith.” There are lots of verses that call us to believe and to have faith. For example,


Faith Verses


  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… (Eph. 2:8)


  • … a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. (Gal. 2:15)


  • … so in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Gal 3:26)


  • Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1)


Belief Verses


  • They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)


  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes… (Rom. 1:6)


  • “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)


  • Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God... (1 John 5:1)


What the above verses tell us is that the concept of belief found in the Bible is nearly synonymous with the concept of faith. The New Testament uses one particular word group - the pistis word group - to express the idea of belief/faith. The Greek noun pistis is often translated as the English word “faith” and the Greek verb pisteuo is often translated as the English word “believe.” It is important to point out that the New Testament makes no distinction between “belief” and “faith.” They both express the same concept;


a trusting reliance on someone (parent, friend, teacher) or something (a claim or object) held to be worthy of that trust.


In short, the bible calls us to entrust ourselves to its claims based on the fact we find them to be true. Biblically speaking faith and belief can’t be pried apart. To refer to what the Bible calls us to I will use the term faith/belief.


Although the Bible doesn’t distinguish between faith and belief it does recognize that the trusting aspect of faith/belief does have a precondition that must be met in order to be exercised. A person needs to have sufficient reasons to think that Jesus is trustworthy, or that the Bible's claims are in fact true. Mental assent, or what we commonly refer to as “belief” is a precondition of rational trust. Intellectual assent is one side of the coin, trust is the other side of the coin.

An Example of Faith/Belief


This concept can be illustrated another way: three people board a commercial airliner to travel to a distant city. The first is an engineer who designs and builds airplanes. He is also a pilot. He knows how everything works. Furthermore, he is a personal friend of the pilot who will be flying that afternoon, and he knows him to be very competent. He boards the plane with full confidence. The second person is just the average business traveler. He knows a little bit about airplanes but just doesn’t think about it too much. He takes his seat and starts reading a magazine. The third is deathly afraid of flying. He breaks out in a cold sweat. It takes all he can do not to turn and flee down the gangway. With much fear and trembling, he gets on the plane, sits down, and hopes he can fall asleep and not wake up until they land. So the question is, “who has more faith in the plane?” The answer is that they all have the same amount of faith. All of them boarded the plane and committed their safety to the plane and the crew. They will only arrive at their destination if the plane arrives. If the plane goes down, they will go down, too. All the people who got on the plane were committing themselves to the plane—they believed (or had faith) in the plane. Those who stayed at the airport, even if they had complete confidence that the plane would arrive as scheduled, did not exercise faith in the plane. They did not commit themselves to it.1 


Believing what the Bible says is true + trusting commitment to those claims = equals biblical faith.


Biblical faith is more than just thinking Christianity is true. It requires both mental assent and choosing to entrust oneself to Jesus.


So What?


What does this have to do with deconversion? Quite a lot. Once we understand what biblical faith is, we can take a closer look at its components: mental assent and trust. One of which we have control over and one of which we do not. While we can’t choose what we believe, we can choose who and what we will trust. To see how that relates to faith loss continue to the next post.   




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